India

Holika, or Holi for short, is the Festival of Color. It marks the end of the nippy winter months and the beginning of spring. This festival comes during the full moon in the Hindu month of Phagan, in February or March. In 2019, it falls on March 21, with the Holika Dahan beginning the evening of March 20.

Bura na mano, Holi hai!
“Don’t mind (feel offense), it’s Holi!”

Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is celebrated on different dates every year. This great Indian festival is observed at the end of the winters in the month of March after the full Moon. A day before Holi a large bonfire is lit that helps in burning out the evil spirits and that whole process is called as Holika Dahan.

Traditions and customs:

  • Throwing colored powder on each other
  • Throwing colored and scented water
  • Public bonfire
  • Singing, dancing, and festive parties
  • This is a day to forget your worries
  • Color can be found everywhere

Holi is celebrated with extreme enthusiasm and joy. Gulal, abeer and pichkaris are synonymous with the festival. Elaborate plans are made to color loved ones and family members. Everybody wants to be the first one to color the other. In the ensuing battle of colors, everybody is drowned not just in colors of gulal but also in love and mirth. People love to drench each other in colored water. Gujiyas and other sweets are offered to everyone who comes across to color.

Temples are beautifully decorated at the time of Holi. Idol of Radha is placed on swings and devotees turn the swings singing devotional Holi songs. Small plays are organized reflecting the spirit of the festival.

Fun, frolic, boisterousness to the extent of buffoonery marks this festival of colors. What more can be expected- when the people get a social sanction to get intoxicated on the bhang, open not just their hearts but also their lungs. And viola, nobody is expected to take offense too, as the norm of the day is, ‘Bura na mano Holi hai‘.

Holi Legends and Mythology

Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself a god and wanted everybody to worship him. He demanded that no one pray to Lord Vishnu and that they only pray to him. In fear, people did as he bid. However, his son Pralhad was devoted to Lord Vishnu and would not abide by his father’s rules. To discipline him, Hirankashyap ordered harsh and cruel punishments, yet no harm came to Pralhad.

Finally, Holika (Hirankashyap sister), who was immune to the harms of fire, was ordered to sit on a bed of flames with Pralhad on her lap. Holika was burnt, but Pralhad survived unharmed. As Holika lay dying she begged Pralhad for forgiveness. Pralhad forgave her and deemed that one day a year would be to remember her. To commemorate “Holi”, large bonfires burn and people say a prayer to “Holi” for well-being.

Holi is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. A young Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about having such a dark complexion compared to his love Radha who was so fair. Yashoda told him to apply color to Radha’s face and see what would happen.

Today, celebrations start early in Nandagaon, where Lord Krishna grew up. Men from Nandagaon raid nearby Barsana (where Radha grew up) with hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji’s temple. The women of Barsana “beat” the raiders with long wooden sticks. This is a mock battle and the men are well-padded as they try to evade capture. If captured, the men are forced to dress as women, paint their faces, and dance!

Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant, Krishna by feeding him poisonous milk.

Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. According to the legend, people in south celebrate the sacrifice of Lord of Passion Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.

Also, popular is the legend of Ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu and was ultimately chased away by the pranks of the children on the day of Holi. Showing their belief in the legend, children till date play pranks and hurl abuses at the time of Holika Dahan.

Cultural Significance

Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. The legend of Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad also points to the fact that extreme devotion to god pays as god always takes his true devotee in his shelter.

All these legends help the people to follow a good conduct in their lives and believe in the virtue of being truthful. This is extremely important in the modern day society when so many people resort to evil practices for small gains and torture one who is honest. Holi helps the people to believe in the virtue of being truthful and honest and also to fight away the evil.

Besides, holi is celebrated at a time of the year when the fields are in full bloom and people are expecting a good harvest. This gives a people a good reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of Holi.

Social Significance

Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of our country. For, the festival is celebrated by non-Hindus also as everybody like to be a part of such a colorful and joyous festival.

Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.

In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revitalizing relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.

Biological Significance

It is interesting to note that the festival of Holi is significant for our lives and body in many other ways than providing joy and fun.

We also need to thank our forefathers who started the trend of celebrating Holi at such a scientifically accurate time. And, also for incorporating so much fun in the festival.

Why Celebrate Holi?

As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. To counteract this tardiness of the body, people sing loudly or even speak loudly. Their movements are brisk and their music is loud. All of this helps to rejuvenate the system of the human body.

Besides, the colors when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.

There is yet another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, this however pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan. The mutation period of winter and spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body. When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (circumambulation or going around) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.

The way Holi is celebrated in south, the festival also promotes good health. For, the day after the burning of Holika people put ash (Vibhuti) on their forehead and they would mix Chandan (sandalpaste) with the young leaves and flowers of the Mango tree and consume it to promote good health.

Some also believe that play with colors help to promote good health as colors are said to have great impact on our body and our health. Western-Physicians and doctors believe that for a healthy body, colors too have an important place besides the other vital elements. Deficiency of a particular color in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular color.

People also clean-up their houses on Holi which helps in clearing up the dust and mess in the house and get rid of mosquitoes and others pests. A clean house generally makes the residents feel good and generate positive energies.

Sources:

Mauni Amavasya, also known as ‘Mauna Amavasya’ is a unique Hindu tradition observed on the ‘amavasya’ (no moon day) during the Hindu month of ‘Magha’. It falls during the month of January-February as per the Gregorian calendar.

As name suggests it is the day of silence in Hinduism when people take pledge to observe one day fasting by not uttering a word throughout the day. It is believed that the water of the most sacred and holy river in Hinduism, the Ganga, turns into the nectar on Mauni Amavasya day. Due to this belief Mauni Amavasya day is the most important day in Hindu calendar to take holy dip in the Ganges.

If this date falls on Monday, (which it does in 2019), then its auspiciousness increases all the more.

The day is also celebrated as the birthday of Manu rishi. It is believed, Lord Brahma gave origination to Maharaja Manu and queen Shatrupa. Hence, this day is considered as the beginning of the creation of the universe.

Do’s and Don’ts For Today

  • Silence is considered auspicious on this day.
  • Wake up early in the morning and take a bath while keeping silence.
  • Better yet, bathe in a river, lake or sacred pool.
  • After bathing, offer Sun (fire)  to the God.
  • Silence on Mauni Amavas is of particular importance. If it is not possible to remain silent then do not speak bitter words from your mouth.
  • In Vedic astrology the moon is said to be the factor of the mind. Restraining the mind by keeping a silence fast strengthens the mind.
  • On this day there is also the law of worship of both Lord Vishnu and Shiva.
  • The poor and the hungry should definitely have food. Offer food in grains, textiles, sesame, amla, blankets, beds, ghee and cows.
  • Donations of gold or land can also be done.
  • Remember the ancestors also on Mauni Amavas, this leads them to salvation.
  • Both men and women should avoid having physical relations on this day. According to Garuda Purana, children born with sexual relation on the Mauni Amavas may have to face many kinds of problems in life.
  • Men and women should avoid arguments. This brings an atmosphere of unrest to the house. It always gives birth to negative power.
  • At the same time, one should remain silent on this day and worship God.
  • Do not insult the poor and helpless. According to beliefs, Shani Dev represents the poor. In such a situation, Shani Dev does not bless the person who insults the poor.
  • The worship of the Banyan Tree (Peepal) on the new moon day is considered to be auspicious and fruitful.
  • It is considered inauspicious to touch a Banyan Tree on a day other than Saturday. So worship on Mauni Amavasya, but do not touch it.
  • Do not go to the graveyard, negative powers are active on the night of the new moon.

Collected from various sources

Makar Sankranti (also known as Makara Sankranthi or Maghi) refers both to a specific solar day in the Hindu calendar and a Hindu festival in reference to deity Surya (sun) that is observed in January every year. It marks the first day of sun’s transit into the Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.

  • Significance: Festival of Harvest, welcome longer days, sun worship
  • Celebrations: Kite flying, bonfires, fairs, surya puja in river, feast, arts, dance, socialization

Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Hindu festivals that has been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle.

Being a festival that celebrates the solar cycle, it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year (January 14), except in rare years when the date shifts by a day for that year, because of the complexity of earth-sun relative movement.

Makar Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colorful decorations, rural children going house to house, singing and asking for treats (or pocket money), fairs, dances, kite flying, bonfires and feasts.

The Magha Mela is mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, thus placing this festival to be around 2,000 years old.

Makar Sankranti is regarded as important for spiritual practices and many people take a holy dip in sacred rivers or lakes, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. The bathing is believed to result in merit or absolution of past sins.

Every twelve years, the Hindus observe Makar Sankranti with one of the world’s largest mass pilgrimage, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event. At this event, they say a prayer to the sun and bathe at the Prayaga confluence of the River Ganga and River Yamuna at the Kumbh Mela.

Because the festival is dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya, people also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity. The traditional prayer to the sun is the Gayatri Mantra.

The Gayatri Mantra

The mantra is a hymn to the sun which represents both the physical sun and the Divine in all things.  Here it is:

Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.

The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.

Chanting the mantra serves three purposes.

  • The first is to give back to the sun. The sun gives but never receives. The mantra is a gift back to the sun, an offering of gratitude to refuel the sun’s gracious offering.
  • The second purpose is to seek wisdom and enlightenment. The mantra is a request to the sun: May we meditate upon your form and be illumined by who you are? (Consider that the sun offers its gift of illumination and energy to all beings, without judgment and without attachment to the outcome of the gift.)
  • Finally, the mantra is an expression of gratitude, to both the life-giving sun and the Divine. The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning. It’s an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India.

An Auspicious Period

Makar Sankranti is regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase or the holy phase of transition. It also marks the end of an inauspicious phase which begins around mid-December. Further it is also believed that any sacred ritual can be performed from this day onwards. The auspicious day of Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of warmer and longer days as compared to nights.

Makar Sankranti is all about forgetting bitter and sad moments which happened in the past and welcoming the new phase of life which is full of purity, knowledge and wisdom.

The Significance of Makar Sankranti

The significance of the Makar Sankranti festival is that it marks the day where there is a significant movement in the zodiac ~ the arrangement of the earth’s dial around the sun ~ and this movement brings about a new change in the way we experience the planet itself.

There are many sankrantis through the year; the two significant ones being Makar Sankranti, and right opposite, after summer solstice is Karka Sankranti. In between, there are many Sankrantis ~ every time the zodiac sign changes, it is called a Sankranti to suggest the movement of the planet, to understand that our life is sustained and nourished by this movement. If this movement ceases, everything about us will cease.

On the 22nd of December, the solstice happened, that means in relation to the sun, the movement or the tilt of the planet reaches its maximum. Now, from this day on, the northern movement is strong. Things really start changing upon the earth. From Makar Sankranti onwards, winter is being relieved step by step.

This movement is also a significant aspect in the way we reap from this planet. There was a time when human beings could eat only what the earth offered. Then we learned how to get what we wanted from the earth; this is called agriculture. When we were hunting and gathering, we only picked up what was there.

It is like when you were an infant, you ate or swallowed whatever your mother gave you. When you became a child, you asked for what you wanted. So we grew up a bit and started demanding and getting what we wanted, but still, you can only get what you want to a point that She is willing. If you stretch it beyond that, you will not only not get it, you will get something else. That is called industrialization.

Agriculture is coaxing the Mother to give what you want. Industrialization is ripping her apart. I am not speaking against something. I want you to understand the way our minds are transiting, the way human activity is transiting from one level to another.

So this is a day when we remind ourselves that everything that we are is what we take from this planet. I see everywhere in the world, people are talking about giving. I don’t know from where they give. You can only take ~ either you take gently or you grab. Did you come with your own property from somewhere? What is there to give? You can only take. Everything is offered. Take sensibly, that is all there is.

Some Thoughts About Movement

Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a very important festival in India. Sankranti literally means “movement.” Everything that we recognize as life is movement. Fortunately, people who came before us have moved on, and people who come after us are waiting for us to move on ~ don’t have any doubts about this.

The planet is moving and that is why it churns up life. If it were still, it wouldn’t be capable of life. So there is something called movement in which every creature is involved, but if there has to be movement, this movement has to be housed ~ this movement can only happen in the lap of stillness. One who does not touch the stillness of his life, one who does not touch the stillness of his being, one who does not know or has not tasted the stillness within and without, will invariably get lost in the movement.

Movement is pleasant only to a point. The planet earth is moving gently in such a beautiful manner ~ it is only changing seasons. Tomorrow, if it just speeds up, throttles up a little bit, then all our seemingly balanced minds will become imbalanced, everything will spin out of control. So movement is beautiful only to a certain point. Once it crosses that point, movement becomes torture.

So Makar Sankranti is a festival to recognize the movement, movement being celebration, movement being life, movement being the process of life and the beginning and the end of life. At the same time, the word ‘shankara’ is used to remind you that the one behind this, Shiva, is a still one; stillness is the basis of movement.

Though all the other planets are moving, the most important one is not moving. If the sun also takes a walk, then we are in trouble. He hangs there not moving. That is why everybody else’s movement is okay. But his stillness is relative because the whole solar system may be moving; the whole galaxy may be moving. So beyond that, the space which holds all this is absolute stillness.

When a human being makes the necessary effort to touch the stillness within himself, only then he knows the joy of movement. Otherwise, people are bewildered by the movement of life. Every change that happens in their life they suffer.

These days, the so-called modern life is like this ~ any change means you must suffer. Childhood is tension, puberty is great suffering, middle age is unbearable, old age is abhorred and feared, and death is celebration  ~no that is pure terror.

Every stage of life is a problem because people have a problem with movement, not understanding that the very nature of life is movement. You can only enjoy and celebrate movement if you have one leg stuck in stillness. If you know what stillness is then movement would be a pleasure. If you do not know what stillness is, if you have no contact with stillness, movement is bewildering.

People are trying to track the movement. Looking at the stars, looking at lines in their hands and looking at all kinds of signs including the tea leaves. People want to read the movement of their lives somehow. This struggle with movement, this paranoia about movement, is happening because there is no taste of stillness.

If there was a taste of stillness in you, movement would not disturb you. It is something which sets a certain rhythm. Every rhythm has a beginning and an end; every movement has a beginning and an end. Movement means that which is in transition. Stillness means that which always is. Movement means compulsiveness, stillness means consciousness.

The significance of Makar Sankranti is that it is the time to remind yourself that celebrating movement is possible only when there is a taste of stillness within you.

Regional Celebrations

Because the festival is celebrated in winter, people start preparing food which can give them give them energy and also keep their body warm. Tilguls ~ Laddu of Til (Sesame) is made up of Jaggery and devotees also pay respect to Goddess Saraswati.

This type of sweet is a symbolism for being together in peace and joyfulness, despite the uniqueness and differences between individuals.

People greet each other Happy Sankranti by saying Tilgul Ghya Aani God God Bola.

For most parts of India, this period is a part of early stages of the Rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is mostly over. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and families enjoying each other’s company, taking care of the cattle, and celebrating around bonfires.

The Makar Sankranti festival is also known and referred to as the harvest festival because this is the time when harvesting is complete and there are big celebrations. This is the day we acknowledge all those who assisted in making the harvest. The farm animals play a huge role in harvesting, so the following day is for them and is called Mattu Pongal.

The first day is for the earth, the second is for us and the third is for the animals and livestock. See, they are placed a little higher than us because we exist because of them, they do not exist because of us. If we were not here, they would all be free and happy. But if they were not here, we couldn’t live.

These festivals are a reminder that we need to craft our present and our future in a conscious manner.

Also, on this day there are several Melas or fairs which are been held and one of the most famous among all melas is Kumbh Mela. It is been held every 12 years at one of four holy locations namely Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nashik.

The Magh Mela which is the mini mela is held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela held at the Ganges River, Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal and many more such fairs are been held on this auspicious day.

Regional Names

Known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the region, Makara or Makar Sankranti is an important pan-Indian solar festival observed on the same date, sometimes for multiple dates.

It is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh, Biku in Assam, Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as Makar Sankranti in the west, and by other names. The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names such as Lohri by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Sukarat in central India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Hindus, and Pongal by Tamil and other south Indian Hindus.

Wikipedia gives us this list:

  • Suggi Habba, Makar Sankramana , Makara Sankranthi: Karnataka
  • Makar Sankranthi: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala
  • Makar Sankranti: Chhattisgarh, Goa, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur,  Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Jammu
  • Thai Pongal, Uzhavar Thirunal: Tamil Nadu
  • Uttarayan: Gujarat
  • Maghi: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
  • Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu: Assam
  • Shishur Saenkraat: Kashmir Valley
  • Khichdi: Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar
  • Poush Sangkranti: West Bengal
  • Tila Sakrait: Mithila

In other countries too the day is celebrated by Hindus, but under different names and in different ways.

  • Nepal: Maghe Sankranti or Maghi- /Khichdi Sankranti
  • Bangladesh: Shakrain/ Poush Sangkranti
  • Pakistan: (Sindh): Tirmoori
Sources:

The Anant Chaturdashi involves praying and seeking the favor of Lord Vishnu by worshipping an image or idol of him reclining on the serpent Sheshnaga (a mythical creature).

The festival of Anant Chaturdashi is a festival of purification celebrated by Jain and Hindus. Because this festival falls on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon period, the dates of the festival vary from year to year. In 2018, the Anant Chaturdashi will fall on September 23rd.

There are important items that are required when worshiping Lord Vishnu. These are: flowers, oil lamps, incense sticks, a paste of sandalwood, vermilion and turmeric. Once these items have been availed, the worshipers can then offer milk, fruits and sweets to the eternal Lord Vishnu.

In parts of Bihar and Eastern UP, the festival is closely linked to Ocean of Milk (kshirsagar) and Lord Vishnu’s Anant Roopa. The ritual is as follows:

Fourteen tilaks (small vertical strips) of vermilion are made on a wooden plank. Fourteen puri (fried wheat bread) and fourteen pua (deep fried sweet wheat bread) are placed on these vermilion strips. A bowl containing Panchamrit (made of Milk, Curd, Jaggery, Honey and Ghee) symbolizing kshirsagar (Ocean of Milk) is placed on this wooden plank.

A thread having fourteen knots, symbolizing Lord Anant is wrapped on a cucumber and is swirled five times in this “Ocean of Milk”. Later this Anant thread is tied on the right arm above the elbow by men. Women tie this on their left arm.

Anant’s Vow

A thread colored with turmeric and kumkum, knotted in 14 different places and considered sacred by Hindus/Jains is worn on the right and left wrists of men and women respectively. This Anant thread is removed after fourteen days. It is a visible sign of the vow that is being made on this day, and the following words are chanted by the worshipers while wearing this thread known as Anant Sutra:

“Ananta Sansar Maha Samudre Magnan Samabhyuddhar Vasudeva Ananta Rupey Viniyojitatmamahya Ananta Rupey Namoh Namastute.”

The women of the family fast on this auspicious day while the men make a vow. This vow is to be kept for 14 years, in the hope of gaining wealth, protection and knowledge from Vishnu. Some men also make this vow so as to regain lost wealth.

Worshipers and devotees of the festival wake up at dawn, take a bath and engage in the puja after which they can partake of the milk and fruits. The only caveat is that they have to avoid taking salt during this period.

Lord Ganesha Departs

One may note that Chaturthi is the fourth day of the lunar fortnight, while Chaturdashi is the fourteenth. In the normal course, Anant Chaturdashi falls 12 days after Ganesh Chaturthi.

Anant Chaturdashi is also the last day of the Hindu festival of Ganeshotsav. It is generally the tenth or eleventh day after Ganesh Chaturthi, and all the Ganesh idols brought into homes and communities are immersed in the sea or nearby lakes and rivers.

On this day, people travel to the waterfront with the idols, large and small, dancing and singing in large processions. Lord Ganesha is departed, only to be welcomed the next year with equal excitement.

The story behind this festival:

There was a Brahmin named Sumant. From his wife Diksha he had a daughter named Sushila. After the death of Diksha Sumant married Karkash, who began to give a lot of trouble to Sushila. Sushila married Kaundinya, and both decided to leave the house to avoid the harassment of the step-mother. On the way they stopped near a river.

Kaundinya went to take bath, and Sushila joined a group of women who were performing worship. They told Sushila that they were worshipping “Anant”. “What kind of worship is this?” Sushila asked. “Anant’s Vow”

They told her that it was Anant’s vow. Then they explained to her the importance of that vow. Some fried “Gharga” (made of flour) and “anarase” (special food) are prepared. Half of them have to be given to the Brahmins. A hooded snake (cobra) made of “darbha” (sacred grass) is put in a bamboo basket. Then the snake (“shesh”) is worshipped with scented flowers, oil lamp and incense sticks. Food is offered to the snake and a silk string is kept before the god, and tied to the wrist. This string is called “anant”, it has 14 knots, and is coloured with “Kunkum”. Women tie the “anant” on their left hand and men on their right. The purpose of this vow is to obtain divinity and wealth, and is kept for 14 years.

After listening to this explanation Sushila decided to take the Anant vow. From that day she and her husband Kaundinya began to prosper and became very rich.

One day Kaundinya, noticed the Anant string on Sushila’s left hand. When he heard the story of the Anant vow, he was displeased and maintained that they had become rich, not because of any power of Anant, but because of the wisdom he had acquired by his own efforts. A heated argument followed, and at the end Kaundinya took the Anant string from Sushila’s hand and threw it into the fire.

After this all sorts of calamities happened in their life, and finally they were reduced to extreme poverty. Kaundinya understood that it was the punishment for having dishonoured “Anant”, and decided that he would undergo rigorous penance until God Himself appeared to him.

Kaundinya went into the forest. There he saw a tree full of mangoes, but no one was eating the mangoes. The entire tree was attacked by worms. He asked the tree if he had seen Anant, but got a negative reply. Then Kaundinya saw a cow with her calf, then a bull standing on a field of grass without eating the grass. Then he saw two big lakes joined to each other with their waters mixing with one another. Further he saw a donkey and an elephant. To every one Kaundinya asked about Anant, but no one had even heard this name. Then he became desperate and prepared a rope to hang himself.

Then suddenly an old venerable Brahmin appeared before him. He removed the rope from Kaundinya’s neck and led him into a cave. At first it was very dark. But then a bright light appeared and they reached a big palace. A great assembly of men and women had gathered. The old Brahmin went straight towards the throne.

Then Kaundinya could no longer see the Brahmin, but only Vishnu instead. Kaundinya realized that Vishnu himself had come to save him, and that Vishnu was Anant, the Eternal One. He confessed his sin in failing to recognize the Eternal in the string on Sushila’s hand. Anant promised Kaundinya that if he made the 14-year-vow, he would be free from all his sins, and would obtain wealth, children and happiness.

Anant explained that the mango tree was a Brahmin, who in a previous life had acquired plenty of knowledge, but had not communicated it to anyone. The cow was the earth, which at the beginning had eaten all the seeds of plants. The bull was religion itself. Now he was standing on a field of green grass. The two Lakes were two sisters who loved each other very much, but all their alms were spent on each other only. The donkey was cruelty and anger. Finally the elephant Kaundinya’s pride.

From: Wikipedia and World Religion News

The dates for this ritual varies from year to year. The word ‘Purnima’ means full moon, therefore the Vat purnima vrat is observed on the full moon day (15th day) of the Hindu month of Jyeshtha that is during the month of May-June as per the Gregorian calendar. In 2017, this falls on June 9. In 2018 it will fall on June 27.

Vat Purnima or Wat Purnima (वट पूर्णिमा, vaṭapūrṇimā, also called Vat Savitri is a celebration observed by married women in the Western Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and some regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh. On this Purnima, a married woman marks her love for her husband by tying a ceremonial thread around a banyan tree. The celebration is based on the legend of Savitri and Satyavan as narrated in the epic Mahabharata.

The Legend:

The legends dates back to a story in the age of Mahabharata. The childless king Asvapati and his consort Malavi wish to have a son. To have a child, he performed penances and offered prayers. Finally the God Savitr appears and tells him he will soon have a daughter. The king is overjoyed at the prospect of a child. She is born and named Savitri in honor of the god.

Since she was born due to her father’s severe penances, she naturally led an ascetic life. However, she is so beautiful and pure,all the men in her village are intimidated and no man will ask for her hand in marriage. Her father tells her to find a husband on her own. She sets out on a pilgrimage for this purpose and finds Satyavan, the son of a blind king named Dyumatsena who lives in exile as a forest-dweller. Savitri returns to find her father speaking with Sage Narada who tells her she has made a bad choice: although perfect in every way, Satyavan is destined to die one year from that day.

Her father asked her to find someone else, but she refused, saying that she could select a man only once in a lifetime since she was of an ascetic spirit. Narada and her father agree. Savitri insists on going ahead and marries Satyavan.

Three days before the foreseen death of Satyavan, Savitri takes a vow of fasting and vigil. Her father-in-law tells her she has taken on too harsh a regimen, but she replies that she has taken an oath to perform the regimen and Dyumatsena offers his support. The morning of Satyavan’s predicted death, he is splitting wood and suddenly becomes weak and lays his head in Savitri’s lap and dies.

Savitri places his body under the shade of a Vat (Banyan) tree. Soon, the messengers of Yama appear on the scene to take away her husband, but Savitir refuses to hand her husband over to them. They can not take him away until Lord Yama Himself appears. Savitri follows him as he carries the soul away. She offers him praise. Lord Yama, impressed by both the content and style of her words, and seeing her matchless devotion, spiritual knowledge, and determination, offers her a boon.

She first asks for eyesight and restoration of the kingdom for her father-in-law, then a hundred children for her father, and then a hundred children for herself and Satyavan. The last wish creates a dilemma for Yama, as it would indirectly grant the life of Satyavan. However, impressed by Savitri’s dedication and purity, he asks her to wish one more time, “forgetting” to mention his denial to grant the third wish.

Savitri immediately asked for the life of Satyavan. The death god Yama who does not spare even an ant, grants life to Satyavan and blesses Savitri’s life with eternal happiness.

Satyavan awakens as though he has been in a deep sleep and returns to his parents along with his wife. Meanwhile, at their home, Dyumatsena regains his eyesight before Savitri and Satyavan return. Since Satyavan still does not know what happened, Savitri relays the story to her parents-in-law, husband, and the gathered ascetics. As they praise her, Dyumatsena’s ministers arrive with news of the death of his usurper. Joyfully, the king and his entourage return to his kingdom.

Though the tree does not play a significant role of the story, The banyan tree holds a unique significance in Hindu religion. As per the Hindu scriptures, it holds the essence of the three great Gods in Hindu mythology, Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. The roots represents Brahma, the stem of Vat Vriksha is Vishnu while Shiva represents the upper part. It is believed that performing the rituals of the puja under this sacred tree, the devotees can fulfill all their desires. It is also worshiped in memory of the love in the legend.

Observing the Vat Purnima:

The festival is followed by married women only, and is prohibited for children and widows. On this day wives pray to the Divine for their husbands’ prosperity and longevity by performing Vat Purnima Puja Vidh which includes tying ritual threads around the trunk of a banyan tree; this ritual is also called the Peepal Puja.

In the present day, the festival is celebrated in the following way. Women dress in fine saris and jewelry, and their day begins with the offering of any five fruits and a coconut. Each woman winds white thread around a banyan tree seven times as a reminder of their husbands. They fast for the whole day.

The fast is also sometimes observed throughout the night until the next morning. The next morning women break their fast and offer charity to Brahmins. Women engage in the worship of a banyan tree, and listen to the legend of Savitri.

After, the women offer water to the tree and spread red powder (kumkum) on it, cotton threads are wrapped around the tree’s trunks and they do parikrama or circumambulate seven times around it.

Alternatively, on the occasion of Vat Purnima, women keep a fast of three days for their husbands, as Savitri did. During the three days, pictures of a Vat (banyan) tree, Savitri, Satyavan, and Yama, are drawn with a paste of sandal and rice on the floor or a wall in the home. The golden engravings of the couple are placed in a tray of sand, and worshiped with mantras (chanting),  vermilion, saffron, sandalwood incense, fruit, and Vat leaves.

Outdoors, the banyan tree is worshiped. A thread is wound around the trunk of the tree, and copper coins are offered. Strict adherence to the fast and tradition is believed to ensure the husband a long and prosperous life. During the fast, women greet each other with “जन्म सावित्री हो” (English: “Become a Savitri”). It is believed that until the next seven births their husband will live well.

Just in the way that Savitri got her husband, Satyavan back from Yumraj, it is known that women who observe this auspicious fast will be blessed with good fortune and blissful married life.

Information collected from various sources.

hola-mohalla-punjab

Hola Mohalla is an annual Sikh festival, celebrated extensively over three days (March 13 thru 15) mainly at the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara, in the state of Punjab. It is a martial fair that was introduced by Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, to fortify the Sikh community by carrying out martial training and mock-drills, along with religious discussions.

The festivities of Hola Mohalla begin by visiting the gurudwaras for early morning prayers. Durbars are held and the Guru Granth Sahib is read. Kirtans and religious lectures are carried out and after the religious ceremonies are over, the ‘prasad’ is distributed among the people.

The evening is filled with a lot of anticipation and thrill, as martial members of the Sikh community (Nihang Sikhs) display their physical strength through daring acts like mock-battles (Gatka), sword-fighting displays, archery and exercising on speeding horses. They also splatter colors on the audience.

This is followed by cultural activities including music, dance and poetry programs and competitions to unwind the charged up atmosphere. A procession is set out on the last day, and the Panj Pyaras walk in front crossing all the major gurudwaras in that area.

Hola Mohalla is the time to celebrate and dedicate oneself into community service. ‘Langars’ are organised, and local people come forward to help by arranging the raw materials for the langar, cleaning the gurudwaras, and washing the dishes.

Here’s a Video:

Source: Journey Mart

In India a ritual was held when the the cotton boles (pods) ripen and burst. When this change in the plant occurs, it was the custom to select the largest plant in the field and having sprinkled it with buttermilk and rice water, to bind it all over with pieces of cotton taken from other plants in the field.

The selected plant is called “Mother Cotton”  and after salutations are made to it, prayers are offered that the other plants may resemble it in the richness of their produce.

In other areas of India, when the cotton  pods begin to burst, women go round the field, and as a kind of lustration, throw salt into it, with similar supplications that the produce may be abundant. The  practice appears to be observed in somewhat similar fashion to the Ambravalia of the Romans and the Field-Litanies of the English Church.

Cotton is a kharif crop which requires 6 to 8 months to mature. Dates for this ritual vary from year to year, region to region because its time of sowing and harvesting differs in different parts of the country depending upon the climatic conditions. In Punjab and Haryana it is sown in April-May and is harvested in December-January that is before the winter frost can damage the crop.

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